Symbolism in art. It's both one of art's greatest aspects, and one of its greatest drawbacks. Taken to extremes, the audience is duped into engaging in a pseudo-intellectual goose chase, attempting to decipher the symbolism of a splash of wasted red paint on a white canvas. And at the other end, an over-rendered piece of wall decoration with no intellectual value (or artistic value, for that matter).
Truly great art functions on many different levels, from the initial impact of its beauty, to eliciting an emotional connection from the viewer, to a deeper narrative of symbolism that communicates the artist's ideas, thoughts, feelings or beliefs. Art that excels in all of these areas is not just the product of a skilled artist, but is also the culmination of an artist's life-experiences.
Infusing a work of art with symbolism gives the viewer another opportunity for discovery. An artist who's work and ethic I greatly admire wrote that it's the artist's job to give the viewer direction and it's the viewer's responsibility to make the discoveries — I completely agree. Symbolism in painting enriches those discovers by giving the viewer a bit more about the artist. And if it's executed well, and is based in life-experience, symbolism in one's art can play a vital roll in helping to better the quality of one's work.
As I grow as an artist and a person, I hope to make symbolism a more important part of my paintings. I hope it enriches the experience of viewing my work and gives the art lover an opportunity to better understand me as an artist.